- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Professional golfers have multiple homes, multiple cars, multiple wives, even multiple personalities. It was only a matter of time before one of them stocked his bag with multiple drivers.

It figures, too, that the player would be Phil Mickelson. Mickelson is the Tour’s resident Techno-Geek, a guy who, if he weren’t winning golf tournaments, would probably be working at Radio Shack. (Unless, of course, he was co-hosting “Tool Time” with Tim Allen.) When it comes to club design, Phil is very hands-on. He’s always looking for that little edge - a longer ball, a livelier shaft, a more forgiving club face. You may outplay him, but you’re not going to out-equipment him. His newest gizmos are the pair of Calloway FT-3 drivers.

One of them hits a fade — for right-to-left fairways; the other hits a draw — for left-to-right fairways. (Don’t ask how. It has something to do with the way weight is distributed in the club head.) Anyway, Mickelson tried the two-driver approach for the first time in the BellSouth Classic last week and blew away the field by 13 strokes, the second-largest margin in the modern era. Needless to say, folks are wondering if Phil is onto something as he prepares for the 70th Masters.

Two drivers are, of course, a bit extreme. For one thing, the rules allow only 14 clubs, so to accommodate a second Big Stick you have to do without one of the “regulars” — in Mickelson’s case, his sand wedge. Indeed, a player with two drivers in his bag has almost invariably miscounted … or not counted at all. That happened to Ian Woosnam in the final round of the 2001 British Open, and the resulting two-shot penalty knocked him out of contention.

But Mickelson ran into no such problems in Atlanta. (And even if he had, it wouldn’t have mattered, given all the strokes he had to burn).

His 28-under performance figures to be a boon to his club manufacturer.

“It’s a big promo Calloway and I are doing now: The only thing better than an FT-3 are two FT-3s,” he joked yesterday.

(Or how about this: Bend It Like Mickelson.)

Phil’s real motivation, though, wasn’t selling more drivers, it was winning more green jackets. And he realized his chances would improve at Augusta National if he could hit a booming 315-yard draw — instead of his natural 290-yard fade — on longer holes such as the par-5 eighth and 15th.

He was working with Calloway on a driver like that, a driver that would give him “some extra pop,” as he put it, but he still needed to be able to hit “a controlled cut on holes where distance isn’t as big a factor. So that’s where I came up with the two-driver concept.”

It simplifies the game, no doubt about that. Instead of having to shape his tee balls left or right with the same club — each shot requiring a different swing — he can now make the same swing with different clubs and get the desired result.

As for his sand wedge, Mickelson swears he can live without it. “I have an L-wedge [60-degree] for that,” he said. “I’m never going to get to where I hit a sand wedge into some of these holes; the course is so long now [500 yards longer than when he first played it]. I’ve played a number of practice rounds with that club, and I’ve never needed it. Never needed it in today’s round.”

Though intrigued by his iconoclasm, Phil’s fellow pros are waiting for him to conduct further testing. When Tiger Woods was asked if he was going to play with two drivers this week, he cracked, “No. Well, one [misbehaving] driver was in two pieces, but that’s about it.”

The constant changes Augusta has undergone, however, are forcing players to use their imaginations. Ernie Els, for instance, plans to carry a 5-wood this year. “I think junior golf might have been the last time I used a 5-wood,” he said. But he can “hit it 245 yards and hit it quite high and stop it on the greens.” Might come in handy on No. 4, a par-3 that has been stretched to 240.

Golf, Mickelson has said, is part technology and part art, each vital to the game. He doesn’t seem at all concerned, though, that high-tech “draw” drivers and “fade” drivers might be taking away some of the artistry of the sport, the artistry of maneuvering the ball.

“As long as I can remember,” he said, “we’ve utilized shafts to help draw or fade. Usually, a stiffer shaft promotes a fade and a weaker one a hook. We’ve used lead tape on the heel of the toe [of the club] to fade it. … We’ve used technology from the beginning to differentiate shots. That’s all I’m doing. Only my stuff is a little bit more precise than it has been in the past; we can be very precise to the thousandth of an inch — center of gravity and stuff like that.”

Maybe it’s a question of identity then. Mickelson is known to the entire golf world as Lefty. But what about when he picks up his “draw” driver and bends the ball in the opposite direction, left to right? What should we call him then, Righty? A conundrum, to be sure.

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